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Comments on #Bdgt14, Harper’s trade policy and jobs

4:45 p.m. – The 2014 budget will create a Made-in-Canada branding campaign but the government is signing a trade deal with Europe that will ban actual Made-in-Canada policies at the provincial and municipal level. The Conservatives are giving temporary financial support to North American automakers while undercutting the entire industry trade negotiations with the EU, Japan and Korea. They’re celebrating a new bridge connection between Windsor and Detroit but have no plan for strengthening Canada’s hurting manufacturing sector. And they’re making changes to Canada’s patent and intellectual property regime to bring us in line with a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that isn’t finished, isn’t public, and can’t be changed at any point by our parliamentarians if they do get it done. When will this government wake up to the reality that their trade agenda is anti-democratic, kills jobs and undermines the health of communities across this country?

5:35 p.m. – We’re going to have to watch upcoming internal trade committee discussions. The 2014 budget admits the government doesn’t know what the internal trade barriers are (beyond the issue of wine sales, which they claim to be working on…) or how much they are supposedly costing the Canadian economy. But by god are the Conservatives going to do something about it. They repeat in this year’s budget that they support inter-provincial trade, investment and labour mobility deals like the New West Partnership (pg. 110), and they are promoting a January 2014 Public Policy Forum report recommending that the government and provinces, “Implement changes to the governance of the [Agreement on Internal Trade] to increase its scope to all economic sectors unless explicitly excluded by parties, strengthen the ability of parties to advance ambitious initiatives, and become more inclusive of non-government stakeholders.” The proposed reforms would significantly constrain the policy flexibility of provincial governments in the interests of maximum economic liberalization/deregulation and open the doors to more big business influence on matters of internal trade. Ideally for groups like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the AIT would include an investor-to-state dispute process like exists in NAFTA so that an Ontario company could sue Alberta for damages (or vice versa, and in any provincial combination) if a policy or regulatory change inadvertently affected the company’s profits. It would be comforting to say this has been on the Conservative-Business agenda for years and might never happen, but the pressure is on the provinces to “play ball” in this department. Harper’s trying to buy provincial support for the EU trade deal, for example, through financial assistant for Atlantic fisheries and Ontario automakers. Without the money, CETA stinks for these provinces (and it’s not so great a deal with the bribe in pocket either). If the Conservatives can come up with another incentive for the provinces to agree to usurp the constitutional division of powers and replace it with a kangaroo corporate arbitration system, they might (absent any public or political pushback) just give in…

To read the trade-specific sections of the budget, click here